Although it has been roughly 75 years since the outbreak of the Second World War, it remains a fascinating topic. The new triple-DVD set Historic Tanks and Battles of WWII looks at the development of tanks during the war, as well as some of the most famous battles. The set is part of The War Zone series from Eagle Rock Entertainment, and is the most in-depth study of tanks that I have ever seen.
There are nine episodes included in this collection, three per disc with each running approximately 47 minutes. “The Sherman Tank: The Workhorse” is the first, and it sets the basic template of the first three programs. Tanks were first employed in World War I, and both the Allied and Axis powers began the second World War with those types. Very little tank development had occurred in the years between the wars, but that would quickly change as both sides looked for any advantage. Military experts and surviving infantrymen discuss the improvements and challenges of the tanks in question, and this is bolstered with statistics and a great deal of black and white battle footage.
As its nickname implies, the Sherman “Workhorse” was a powerful weapon, and there were numerous variations on the basic design. These include the Sherman “Crab,” which actually does resemble a crab, and was utilized during the landing at Normandy. The Sherman was reconfigured in various other ways, including as a flame-thrower and rocket launcher.
While the specifics of the programs are different, they follow the general pattern of the first episode. “The Churchill Tank: Britain Fights Back” is next, and in it we see how England’s tank program progressed. One fact that I was previously unaware of was that the Brits invented the tank during World War I. For some reason I had always assumed that tanks were an American innovation. The Churchill was introduced in 1942, and like all of the tanks in the series, there were numerous variations on the basic chassis. The Russian tank program is examined in episode three, “The T134 Tank: Russia’s Cutting Edge.” According to the experts, the T134 was one of the best kept secrets in the early days of the war, and caught the Germans completely unprepared on the battlefield.
The second disc begins with “Steel Tigers,” which is a bit of a broader look at the use of tanks on the battlefield. Although the Russian T-34 was outclassed and outgunned by the German Tiger and Panthers, Russia was able to build them quick and cheap, which led to victory by sheer weight of numbers.
The second disc of the set focuses on the German tank program, beginning with “Sturmgeschutze and Panzerjaeger.” These were the smaller, less celebrated cousins of their famous Tigers and Panzers, but certainly did the job. “Steel Tigers” describes what was probably Germany’s greatest tank, simply known as the Tiger. The high explosive shells used by the tank and its success in the desert are two of the more intriguing aspects of this episode. In “Sturmarteillerie” we get a much closer look at what came to be called the Panzer. As the narrator intones, it was the “monster deployed by German forces.” Like the tanks of the Allies profiled in the first disc, this look at Germany’s tanks is filled with statistics and information from military experts.
Although some of the more famous WWII battles are mentioned in passing during the first six episodes of the set, it is the third that really focuses on them. The three programs on disc three are “The Battle of Kursk,” “The Battles of Normandy,” and “The Ardennes Offensive.” As battle documentaries go however, these shows are a bit different as they focus on the tank vs. tank elements of each battle. Again, the use of statistics and experts to explain the significance of those stats are utilized to enlighten us as to the battlefield performance of the Allied and Axis tanks that were deployed in each circumstance.
With over seven hours of material, Historic Tanks & Battles of WWII is truly binge-worthy for tank aficionados. What I never tire of is the genuine black and white battle footage of the war, and there is an extraordinary amount of it used in this series. While an in-depth study of tanks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, this set serves a very useful purpose for those of us who are interested in the subject. Historic Tanks & Battles of WWII is definitely recommended for those with an interest in the subject.